The Lion Trees

The Lion Trees

4.3 7
by Owen Thomas

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What if survival required you to unlearn who you are? How far would you fall to save yourself? Sometimes happiness is a long way down.

The Johns family is unraveling. Hollis, a retired Ohio banker, isolates himself in esoteric hobbies and a dangerous flirtation with a colleague's daughter. Susan, his wife of forty years, risks everything for a second chance


What if survival required you to unlearn who you are? How far would you fall to save yourself? Sometimes happiness is a long way down.

The Johns family is unraveling. Hollis, a retired Ohio banker, isolates himself in esoteric hobbies and a dangerous flirtation with a colleague's daughter. Susan, his wife of forty years, risks everything for a second chance at who she might have become. David, their eldest, thrashes to stay afloat as his teaching career capsizes in a storm of accusations involving a missing student and the legacy of Christopher Columbus. And young Tilly, the black sheep, having traded literary promise for an improbable career as a Hollywood starlet, struggles to define herself amid salacious scandal, the demands of a powerful director, and the judgments of an uncompromising writer.

By turns comical and poignant, the Johns family is tumbling toward the discovery that sometimes you have to let go of your identity to find out who you are.

[A] cerebral page turner...a powerful and promising debut.--Kirkus Reviews

"A sweeping literary saga in the tradition of Dr. Zhivago, Gone with the Wind, and The Thorn Birds, this book has it all, including scandal, aspiration, treachery, and reinvention. Thomas' fiction has a fresh feel--original and stirring... By turns exhilarating and exhausting, Thomas creates compelling, rich characters. The ending is just as satisfying as the beginning. -- The Eric Hoffer Book Award

"[FIVE STARS]... "highly addictive, spectacular, and mind blowing" – The US Review of Books

"[FIVE STARS]... "Every now and then, seemingly out of nowhere, a new voice comes along and knocks your socks off. Owen Thomas owns that voice. -- The Anchorage Press

"[A] powerful, gripping and realistic story...The Lion Trees does what so very few great novels can: it will take a lot out of you, but leave you with much more than you had when you began."--Pacific Book Reviews, a five star review.


The Kindle Book Award (Winner)
The Global eBook Awards (Winner)
The Eric Hoffer Award (Winner - Honorable Mention)
First Horizon Award (Finalist)
Beverly Hills International Book Awards (Finalist)
London Book Festival (Honorable Mention)
Southern California Book Festival (Honorable Mention)
Great Midwest Book Festival (Honorable Mention)
Los Angeles Book Festival (Honorable Mention)
Great Southeast Book Festival (Honorable Mention)
Pacific Rim Book Festival (Honorable Mention)
Hollywood Book Festival (Honorable Mention)

Editorial Reviews - John Walsh
In its structure and nature, it reminds me above all of John Updike's wonderful Harry Rabbit novels and their ability to summarise the essence of change in American society across a decade at a time.
Pacific Book Review - James Sadler
[A] powerful,...and realistic story. [A] few decades ago, many authors would set out to write "The Great American Novel," hoping to tap into whatever ... makes the US and its people so unique and hopeful, particularly at a set point in time. ... [I]t doesn't seem like anyone tries to write those kind of seminal novels anymore... until now. ... This is a wonderful, well written tale. ... The Lion Trees does what so very few great novels can... leav[ing] you with much more than you had when you began. - Kevin Peter
[A]n amazingly entertaining piece of literature... and do I dare say it, a serious novel that provides you with some genuine laugh out loud moments. ... The Lion Trees depicts people who can't be slotted as just saints or monsters, they fall somewhere in between, just like any of us. Owen Thomas's writing leaves you richer with emotions and contentment even before the ending arrives. If there is only one book that you are going to read this year, make it The Lion Trees.

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OTF Literary
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3 MB

Meet the Author

Owen Thomas, a lifelong Alaskan with an abiding love of original fiction, is a product of the Anchorage School District and a graduate of Duke University and Duke Law School. While managing an employment litigation practice in Alaska, Thomas has written three novels: Lying Under Comets: A Love Story of Passion, Murder, Snacks and Graffiti; The Lion Trees (winner of 14 international book awards including the 2015 Amazon Kindle Book Award, the Eric Hoffer Book Award, the Global eBook Awards, and the Beverly Hills International Book Awards); and a novel of interconnected short fiction entitled "Signs of Passing", winner of the Pacific Book Awards for Short Fiction. Owen maintains an active fiction and photography blog on his author website at

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The Lion Trees 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
HanaKolea More than 1 year ago
This two-volume juggernaut is an orgy of literary yummy - and way more fun than a serious work of fiction has a right to be. I’m always looking for a novel that has it all: credible characters, an entertaining story line, suspense, humor, good writing, something unexpected, a satisfying ending, and a meaningful theme. It’s a tall order for any author, so I was surprised to find the whole package in a debut novel. “The Lion Trees” unfolds in four interwoven narratives. The Hollis chapters are told in a deft third-person voice infused with the character’s point-of-view. I think it says something about the maturity of the author that as Hollis shambles through his character arc, we root for him even as we want to punch him in the nose. The Susan chapters are told entirely through dialogue. The Tilly chapters are told in the first-person from a retrospective 60 years in the future, and I must say, it was poignant and compelling to listen to a woman with end-of-life wisdom recall the missteps of her turbulent youth. The David chapters are engagingly told in the first-person as his life sprawls away from him in a debacle that is outrageous and yet relatable. “The Lion Trees” has a profound central theme, combined with astute character studies, some social observation, genuine soulfulness, and a good sense of humor. It’s a deeply satisfying read. And yet, let me offer at least one criticism. There is something unsettling about Susan’s character. I never got a good grasp on her, and while her frustrations and triumphs are plausible, we don’t encounter them with the same sharp humanity that the author creates for the other main characters.   And then there is the length of the book. What can I say? It’s long. But if you’re thinking that a book this size must be an impenetrable mess or a tedious slog, then you are in for a nice surprise. Four distinct voices keep the narration fresh. The drama is engrossing. And the story becomes a suspenseful page-turner as the novel picks up momentum. Reading this book reminded me of binge-viewing an HBO series, or reading a trilogy back-to-back. I emerged at the end feeling like I’d been somewhere. The other advantage of a super-size novel is that the author gets to take the reader on an occasional detour. These secondary characters add delicious texture to an already multilayered story, and because the subplots are well crafted, they meld seamlessly into the greater story without feeling extraneous. I found that the minor characters advanced the central theme of the book and were fascinating in their own right. I want my book club to select this book even though it’s a two-volume set. I visited the author’s website and discovered that he is willing to participate in discussions, which I think is fantastic. (It’s a cool website).  As a point of reference for those who like comparisons, this book has the family dynamics of “The Corrections,” the story-within-a-story of “The Blind Assassin,” the alternating voices of “The Poisonwood Bible,” the social incisiveness of “A Man in Full,” the wry irreverence of “The Financial Lives of Poets,” and the timeless quality of “A Prayer for Owen Meany” (with a dash of Bradbury sci-fi on the side). I know this is an exuberant review - especially since I’m constantly exasperated by blurbs that declare every book to be Amazing! Astounding! Breathtaking! - nevertheless, this novel is truly a standout and I loved its audacious length and ambition. 
ReadersFavorite More than 1 year ago
Reviewed by K.C. Finn for Readers' Favorite The Lion Trees is a powerful and unique work of fiction by author Owen Thomas. Taking the slice of life multi-perspective approach to its literary maxim, the plot follows four key members of the Johns family through their past, present, and the potential of their future. Patriarch Hollis struggles with retired life, filling his time with temptations and frivolous hobbies, whilst his wife Susan dreams of the life she might have had if she had never consented to a forty-year marriage. Down the generations, rising starlet Tilly struggles with the dark realities of getting what she wants from directors and writers, whilst her brother David, a teacher, deals with a scandal of his own at school. So begins one family’s journey to discover the limits they must push themselves to in order to be truly happy, and face the question of whether that happiness is even possible. This is the sort of novel which a light fiction reader might put down after the first dozen pages, and I’m here to implore that you don’t. Once you get used to the time-hopping, perspective-switching style of Owen Thomas’ deep and beautiful prose, the story of the Johns family flutters like a paper bag in the breeze that you can’t stop watching. Unpredictable, philosophical and deeply, intrinsically human, The Lion Trees explores a lengthy gamut of powerful emotional depths, asking important questions about life which we readers, like the Johns family, so often forget to stop and ponder. A superb and high quality literary drama.
LinNC More than 1 year ago
I really wanted to like this book....and I wish the option to assign two different star ratings was available - one for the first part and one for the second. Here's why. I thought the characters created by the author were so vivid with personalities that emerged through excellently written dialogue. I was totally drawn into the book until I got about half way through. At that point the lengthy speeches and drawn out internal reflections began to detract from the story. By the time I got to the last several chapters I simply wanted it to just wrap up and be over. Perhaps if I had read it in two volumes rather than the eBook version....with a break in the might have helped. But I felt as if there were multiple books sort of tangled up together - particularly toward the end when there were multiple twists that didn't seem to add that much to the overall messages from the characters. 
Dbeau More than 1 year ago
What a riveting story! The personalities of the Johns family ring true. Their faults cause them no end of trouble. A husband and wife drifting apart and each trying to find their own separate identities. A daughter who avoids her father and at the same time seeks his approval. A son who feels he is a disappointment to his father and is dealing with his own nightmare. A downs syndrome son who brings the only light to the family with his joyous smiles and dancing. Each family member circles around the others, with brief overlaps where they interact. I can't wait to find out what happens to each of them in Part 2!
gbowers More than 1 year ago
I could not put this book down! I would wake up in the middle of the night and reach for my ipad to read another chapter  in the life of one of the complex and witty characters. Thomas is a brilliant writer that engages us into the world of a family unraveling. I would wait for the other shoe to drop and it always did, oh what a tale we weave.... Excellent !  gbowers
KevinPeterKP More than 1 year ago
Ties that bind us – A review of the novel ‘The Lion Trees’ “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans” - John Lennon As I finished reading the novel which fully deserves that loosely and widely used epithet ‘magnum opus’, I realized that The Lion Trees was much more than what it claims to be and definitely wiser than what I could comprehend in the first reading. And yet, it is those first impressions that matter most of the time and of which I’m about to share with you. As I close my eyes and look back at the book, certain images that my mind crafted while reading this novel comes alive to me in spurts and in solitary, of connecting with another individual, experiencing their angst, their remorse, their resolve, their happiness, their endings. And when I think about it, it sometimes feels like I’m drifting in and out of sleep, recollecting images from a dream that I’ve seen or perhaps one I’m seeing right now but I know they were from a book, from a novel that is as real as fictionalized reality gets or perhaps and funnily enough from pure fiction shot with an absolute dose of honest reality. Author Owen Thomas’s two part saga on family and the lives of individuals that make up such a social unit form the base for his novel, ‘The Lion Trees’. Juxtaposing with the moral and social environment of America circa 2005, his novel reads as a part impressionistic memoir and part anecdotal account of the lives of five individuals of a family. They are the Johns family; papa Hollis, mom Susan and siblings David and Tilly’s separate narrative intertwines with each other’s and sometimes stays afloat on its own. But the one thing that unites them all is Ben, Hollis and Susan’s third child and the one constant presence in all their lives. The character of Hollis is of a retired banker, a man of many stories, a man with odd hobbies and a stranger interest in a former colleague’s daughter. Wife Susan, the proverbial caregiver of the family increasingly finds herself contemplating her individual future separate from that of her family; looking for a more meaningful purpose to her existence. So it would be no surprise to state at this point that their marriage has hit a giant roadblock and isn’t going anywhere, a fact that is openly acknowledged by both her adult children. David is the quintessential right guy at all the wrong places, saying and doing all the wrong things. His earnestness and his almost obsessive compulsion to follow a path of righteous integrity lands him trouble more often than not. Ben, the youngest suffers from Down syndrome, is the epitome of love and innocence and a figure that resembles the allegorical home all the four characters return to whenever they go off the track. And then there’s Tilly, the only character who’s narrative transcends the linear nature of the book and we get to see her explore herself and her story in a retrospective manner down the ages from her struggles as an young aspiring starlet to an established and mature woman and actress. The Lion Trees is their story, part one deals with their falls while part two shows their revival, starting their lives afresh. You take one look at the novel and your impulsively judgemental mind may be excused for jumping the gun and trying to categorize the novel into that of a genre with a dark theme and heavy duty drama and thinking it to be related to its similar American and Russian cousins. But by the time you are done with The Lion Trees, you would have forgotten all about the length and will realize what an amazingly entertaining piece of literature it was and do I dare say it, a serious novel that provides you with some genuine laugh out loud moments. Owen Thomas is so sure of his writing and the unique and individual voices that he has created for his characters that he doesn’t feel the need to add (a highly distracting) ‘he said’, ‘she said’ after every line of conversation between the characters. The level of detailing is pretty amazing, even the way each character’s immediate environment has been made up to highlight and reflect on their unique personalities has been well thought out. In addition to the novel's principal characters, Owen has given us as a fine array of secondary characters as well. Their back stories and their sub plots will be relatable to most. There are some stand out scenes in the book, worth mentioning are Susan’s political speech, Angus Mann’s diatribe against Hollywood and pretty much all the scenes involving David, especially those of him teaching history to his students, his interrogation scenes and the final courtroom drama. The novel is also filled with great quotable quotes, a true book aficionado’s delight. The Lion Trees depicts people who can’t be slotted as just saints or monsters, they fall somewhere in between, just like any of us. Owen Thomas’s writing leaves you richer with emotions and contentment even before the ending arrives. And if there is only one book that you are going to read this year, make it The Lion Trees.
LillianAK More than 1 year ago
With constant urging from a friend, I finally agreed to take on a sizable piece of fiction entitled ”The Lion Trees”.  She assured me it was even screenplay-worthy and a book we would enjoy discussing. In her words “This is a winner!” SO “The Lion Trees” it was, and what a ride it turned out to be! It almost took over my life as I had trouble putting it down. The novel invites you into the personal lives of four members of the Johns family, each in the midst of his and her own private upheaval. But while these individual narratives are separately told, the author has woven them together beautifully to tell a much larger story. Further, Thomas effectively engages the reader into the character and unfolding life story of each family member while expertly and unsuspectingly tying each back to the unbelievable happenings of the others. Just as I was totally engrossed in the suspense of Hollis Johns, I was thrown into the personal drama going on with Susan, David or Tilly Johns which all contribute powerfully to several common themes that span and bind together the entire book.  The character development in “The Lion Trees” makes each character so alive that you feel you want to rush to the phone and offer a “piece of advice” to keep them from falling into the traps you suspect are just around the corner. “YIKES, DON”T GO THERE”!  As you read, you are totally drawn into this story. And yet, “The Lion Trees” is more than just suspenseful. It has the wonderful humor of David in which you find you laugh out loud as his life story explodes in a chaotic and unpredictably entertaining spiral. It is so relatable and warm, you want to read David’s story twice. I suspect every reader will have a favorite. David was mine. Susan is the one who made me actually stop reading momentarily to think about how she related her life with her family.  Her story is told entirely through dialogue and I found her story to be very compelling with some quite unexpected twists and turns. I still think about her. I believe many women her age will be able to relate to her in one way or another. I feel the author’s character development of Susan was written with just enough depth to fuel the reader’s imagination. The Tilly chapters are told in the first person, retrospectively, as she looks back over decades of an eventful life. She shares the joys and pain of her childhood in Ohio, the sordid saga of her all-too-public experience as a Hollywood starlet, and her reconciliation with her own past as she matures into a fully-realized person.  Each family member’s story is more than a worthwhile reading experience unto itself but since the Johns family is connected in so many memorable ways, these characters are compelling because of how they connect to each other. They are indeed a “family” which is why the reader can so easily relate. “The Lion Trees” soulful, humorous and meaningful and it has some of the best character development I have read in a while. The story is rich, so very rich in its depth.  I actually tried to find something I didn’t like.  I’m sorry but I cannot. When I started I was concerned about the length. This is a big book (two volumes, so make sure you are not purchasing just half the book), but I found myself wishing there was more.  Imagine that?  OK, my friend was absolutely correct in pushing me to the point of frustration to take on “the Lion Trees” Thank you friend! I am now open to discussion as you suggested. This book is a winner!